I dreaded Vacation Bible School.
There. I confessed it. So shoot me.
As a kid, VBS was just okay. It was nice to go for a week of Bible stories, snacks, and playtime. But my preference was to not interrupt my summer with a week of what we did already pretty much every Sunday.
VBS was an unquestioned fixture in the church calendar. It was a given that we were going to do Bible School. Because as a church, that’s what you do. Every year.
Even as a pastor, I dreaded VBS. All that planning, trying to recruit volunteers, and publicizing the week took its toll. When the week was over, there was a huge relief felt by all involved, especially me, that I had a whole year not to have to think about VBS.
Don’t get me wrong, we saw kids come to faith during VBS week. But most of them dropped off the radar shortly after the Closing Program. I found that was a major problem with VBS. No follow up or continuity of relationship.
We tried all sorts of VBS programs. We did daytime, evening, three-day VBS, once-a-week VBS for a month, and we changed up the format several times. We tweaked VBS every way it could be and squeezed every drop of effective juice we could out of it, but the result was the same year after year. No lasting fruit and exhausted volunteers secretly wishing we wouldn’t do VBS next year.
I know I’m not the only church leader that feels this way about VBS. I am, however, one of the few that will admit that I feel VBS in not the most effective means of summer outreach.
So, how about rather than curse the darkness, I light a candle and share some alternatives to VBS.
Many kids play sports. Their parents are looking for camps to help their kids with skills. You likely have people in your church who could teach sport skills. So, lead a camp in soccer, baseball, basketball, cheerleading, or football. Provide snacks and water, and during breaks discuss how the gospel impacts character on and off the field. Plan for a scrimmage game at the end of the week where the parents are encouraged to come.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be team sports. You could do a chess camp, or a golf camp. How about this? Do a video game camp. Now go figure how to leverage that niche for the kingdom!
Life Skills Week
This is a great opportunity to partner with parents. Kids need to learn certain life skills. Skills such as making a meal, basic money management, how to get along with others, how to make decisions, developing healthy habits, doing laundry, wrapping a gift, treating a wound, house cleaning, mowing the yard, and taking care of pets are important for kids to learn. Parents appreciate when others come alongside them to help with these critical developmental phases in their kids’ lives. Set aside time in the summer to gather parents and kids to work on a few life skills.
Rather than recruiting volunteers for VBS, send your people to volunteer with agencies that provide mentoring or tutoring services for kids during the summer. The Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, and Big Brothers/Big Sisters are all good places to start. Other communities have similar agencies and programs that provide such services for kids. Go into those places as sent people on mission, bringing the kingdom of God there.
Volunteering in this way can open up whole new areas of relationship that can be nurtured with the gospel. Go to where the kids are rather than expecting them to come to you. This alternative can continue past the summer and lead to long term missional effectiveness in a community.
MC Summer Rhythm
Your missional community has a weekly rhythm to it. Why not change that rhythm a bit for the summer? Use those warm/hot months to engage in events and activities focused on building relationships.
Our MC gathered on the front lawn of the home of a member each week for the summer. It was in a cul-de-sac, so the kids were out playing basketball, tossing frisbees, riding bikes and scooters, etc. We served ice cream treats and popsicles. It involved others in the neighborhood who came over to join in. Some of those neighbors got folded in when the MC started its regular rhythm in the fall.
You can mix it up in the summer, using your MC as the way to reach new people and build relationships. Have a monthly movie night for the kids. Do a monthly game night.
Summer of Mission
Another skill kids need to learn is how to serve others. Schedule opportunities to take kids on local “mission trips.” Clean the yard of an elderly neighbor. Grill hotdogs in the park and invite people to come over and share in the food. Do free car washes. Visit with residents of a senior living facility. Teach kids how to serve others using the things they love to do.
As you serve, you constantly remind the kids how Jesus served us in dying for us. Teach them to be generous with their time and resources, because God is so generous with us. Help them see their every act of service as a picture of God’s love for those they’re serving.
These suggestions are not fully fleshed out in how to do them. That’s for you to figure out in your own context. Be creative. Be intentional with the gospel. Living and speaking the gospel is supposed to be normal and natural in the missional lifestyle. So, just combine gospel-centered living with normal summer activities. You don’t have to feel locked in to doing VBS year after year. If you’ve uncovered the secret to doing VBS well, then keep at it. But, if you’re like so many others, don’t be afraid to try something else.